The end of one chapter gives way to the start of another, and such is the case as teams around the state begin preparations for the 2020-21 school year.
For some, that’ll mean making the move to a new district, as Poteet and West Mesquite will be separated in football for the first time ever, while others, such as the current 10-6A, remained unchanged.
Throughout the summer, Star Local Media will reflect on the year that was for the Rowlett, Sachse and Mesquite areas, while also looking ahead to the district’s storylines and subplots for the 2020-21 school year.
1. As summer workouts get underway, how were football teams impacted by no spring practices during the COVID-19 pandemic?
There is simply no way to overstate the importance of the hundreds of hours football programs lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spring football has become one of the more important phases of the year for teams and there is no way to replace both the physical and mental aspects of what coaches and players work on during that time.
From a strategic standpoint, some programs are impacted more than others.
Mark “Red” Behrens has been at the helm of the Sachse program since the school opened in 2002 and Doug Stephens has been the head coach at Rowlett since 2013.
That consistency, which often starts with the implementation of schemes as far back as feeder middle schools, and sometimes even the basics at younger levels, allows the Mustangs and Eagles to pick up where they left off.
However, for West Mesquite, where Frank Sandoval took over in January, and at Poteet and Horn, which have second-year head coaches in Rodney McLain and Chris Hudler, respectively, this was invaluable missed time to get the players on the same page.
Last week, athletes were permitted by the University Interscholastic League to begin workouts at the school. This includes work in the weight room, as well as non-contact drills such as passing and catching.
However, all programs face the challenge of getting the players reacclimated to the physicality of the game.
That is always a process when players have been away from the game during the summer months, but this will be a different challenge as teams return after months of absence.
Coaches must try to not only get players caught up to the physical nature of the sport, but also make sure the conditioning is up to speed to combat the 100-degree days of August and September.
2. How much of a factor will enrollment play in the football pecking order in the fall?
The biggest difference for the Garland ISD and Mesquite ISD football teams will be seen in the playoffs, where they avoid the Allen/Plano ISD cluster as those programs were moved to Region 1.
Even Sachse and Horn, the two largest schools in their respective school districts, had more than 2,000 fewer students than the PISD schools and Allen, as the largest school in the state with an enrollment of 6,959 students, is more than twice their size.
The 9-6A landscape offers a more balanced outlook. Sachse (2.851) is the largest GISD program but it is not an overwhelming numbers advantage. The rest of the schools have at least 2,320 students with the exception of South Garland (2,151), who fell below the Class 6A cutoff but elected to opt up and remain with their GISD brethren.
There is one outlier in the new 10-6A, where Skyline (4,184) has more than 1,000 students more than the second largest school, Horn (2.899). Outside of Skyline, the other schools are comparable in size, with Tyler Lee (2,304) being the smallest.
West Mesquite and Poteet also find themselves on more level playing fields.
Highland Park (2,209) came in just 11 students shy of the 2,200 cutoff figure, but it is not a huge difference. Five of the other six teams in 7-5A Division 1 have more than 2,000 students and Sherman (1,951.5) is not far behind.
Poteet finds itself on a much more even playing field as it drops down into 6-5A Division 2.
In fact, with an enrollment of 1,813, the Pirates are among the largest Division 2 programs alongside Thomas Jefferson and Spruce. Those schools have a sizable advantage over programs such as Conrad, Hillcrest, Kimball and South Oak Cliff, who all have enrollments of 1,435 and less.
3. What are the best rivalries to watch in the upcoming school year?
There have not been a lot of major changes to the district landscapes in GISD and MISD over the last several realignment cycles and that familiarity has allowed them to maintain some of the better rivalries.
The marquee rivalry in GISD during the past 15 years has been between Rowlett and Sachse. The schools are separated by only 5.8 miles and a number of Sachse students actually live in Rowlett.
But in addition to proximity, what makes these games so intense is that the Eagles and Mustangs boast two of the most well-rounded athletics program in the area.
During the last decade, Sachse has qualified all of its teams for the playoffs in the eight season-based sports in each of the last two years and has placed at least seven teams in the postseason seven times.
Though it took a small dip last year, Rowlett has had playoff streaks of 14 seasons in a row or more in volleyball, football, girls soccer, boys soccer, softball and baseball.
Because of their success, that has resulted in number of their meetings in all sports having not just bragging rights on the line, but also district championships.
The MISD landscape is a little different in that the five programs are split up into two different classifications.
Obviously, it is big any time any of the crosstown rivals lock horns.
Horn has developed a nice rivalry with Rockwall in recent years, particularly in football, girls basketball and boys basketball.
Though separated in football, Poteet and West Mesquite will welcome back longtime nemesis Highland Park, as those three programs have been linked in the same district for a majority of the last three decades.
4. What are some notable milestones to keep an eye on for the upcoming football season?
Last season, Sachse notched the 100th victory in program history with a 45-17 rout of Garland in early October.
It was also the 100th career win for head coach Mark “Red” Behrens, who is the only coach the Mustangs have ever known.
Sachse has an all-time record of 104-68, which makes them one of just three out of the seven GISD programs to have an overall winning mark.
Longtime power Garland (669-392-52) ranks among the all-time leaders in victories in the state, while despite having its streak of playoff appearances end last year, Rowlett (131-130) is just above .500, as well.
Conversely, while some GISD programs have endured their share of struggles, all five MISD football teams have winning records.
West Mesquite’s 31-17 victory over rival Poteet was the 200th in the program’s history. The Wranglers (200-196-3) join the Pirates (208-132-1), Mesquite and North Mesquite with at least 200 victories.
Horn, the youngest of the MISD teams, recently captured its 100th all-time win, putting their record at 103-98.
Despite some recent struggles, North Mesquite (305-211-11) has the best winning percentage (57.8 percent).
Though it might not be likely this season, Mesquite (487-458-38) is closing in on rarified territory as it pursues its 500th overall win.